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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Three Midshipmen - Chapter 30. An Attempt At Escape
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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 30. An Attempt At Escape Post by :Aragon2005 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1552

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The Three Midshipmen - Chapter 30. An Attempt At Escape

CHAPTER THIRTY. AN ATTEMPT AT ESCAPE


Rogers and Murray, and their companions, watched with considerable anxiety the approach of the fresh horde of pirates. From the number of lights they showed, and the noise they made, it was very evident that their fleet was much more powerful than the one which had captured the brig.

"If we were on shore now, I should little care if the result of the fight was like that of the two Kilkenny cats Adair tells a story about, who fought so desperately that at the end of the battle only their tails were to be found," said Jack; "they having, in a way none but Irish cats could have succeeded in doing, eaten each other up. Paddy sticks to his story, and declares it is a truth, but does not exactly explain how it happened."

Rogers' remarks were cut short by one or two shots striking their junk, on which the crew set up the most terrific shouting, and began blazing away from all their guns, jingalls, and other firearms. Jack and Alick, and Captain Willock and his mate, loaded their muskets and began to fire away, and to make as much noise as the Chinese, but they none of them at first took much pains to aim at the other pirates, their object being to make their companions suppose that they were fighting desperately. However, before long a jingall ball grazed Jack's shoulder, and that put up his blood.

"I say, it won't do, we must drive these villains off," he exclaimed; "if we don't, we shall be getting the ladies' throats cut, and our own too."

"I am afraid so," answered Alick; "it isn't pleasant fighting either way." So they now loaded faster than ever, and took the best aim they could. All the firing and shouting did not stop the advance of the enemy, and jingall balls and other missiles came flying thicker and thicker round their heads.

"Those poor ladies! What will become of them? They must be very much frightened," cried Jack. A considerable number of the crew were by this time hit; many were killed outright, and as far as the midshipmen could judge, their side was getting the worst of it. Still the shrieks and cries in no way diminished, but rather grew louder and more unearthly. One large junk appeared to have singled them out, and was steadily approaching to board. Their crew evidently did not like this state of things. The old captain had just come up to them, with Jos the Malay as interpreter, to make some proposal or other to them, when, as the words were coming out of his mouth, a round shot took his head off, and his body was sent flying half across the deck. What he was saying Jos could not tell, and gravely remarked that no one was now likely to discover. The crew, on discovering that their chief was killed, and that they had lost so many of their companions, showed signs of unwillingness to fight. At last one ran to the side, and overboard he jumped, and began to swim towards the shore. One after the other followed like a flock of sheep, all taking the water exactly in the same way, till not a pirate remained on board. The midshipmen entreated Jos to remain, and Hoddidoddi engaged to stick by them.

"The ladies, probably, can't swim," observed Jack; "but if we could manage to launch a boat, we might get away before the big junk can scull alongside." There was a boat, but on examining her, they found that she had several holes in her side, which was the reason the pirates had not taken her.

"That's pleasant," cried Jack. "Now if those fellows board us in a hurry, before Jos has time to explain who we are, we shall get knocked on the head to a certainty."

"We must stow ourselves away, I fear, till the first rush is over," said Alick. "We must keep outside the ladies' cabin, so as to protect them."

"I am afraid so," said Jack, and he ran and told Madame Dubois and her daughter what had occurred, and entreated them not to be alarmed--advice which was more easily given than taken. Jack then ran back to Murray, who was trying to induce Jos and Hoddidoddi to remain with them, they very naturally wishing to swim on shore, under the belief that they should be knocked on the head if they remained. On came the huge junk, and in another instant would have been alongside, when, as the midshipmen began to feel that too probably their last moments had arrived, a loud roar was heard, up went her decks and masts and sails, and fierce flames burst out from every part of her--the same event which had happened to the brig had occurred to her; she had blown up. The bodies of the poor wretches belonging to her, and the burning fragments of the vessel, fell close alongside them, and nearly set their junk on fire. Had they possessed a boat, they would have done their best to render assistance to the drowning wretches; as it was, they ran to the side of the vessel, and got such ropes as they could lay hands on to heave-to the people who were swimming about. The pirates, however, believing that if they came near the vessel they were about to attack they would simply be thrust back again into the water, or be knocked on the head, or have their throats cut, or be disposed of in some similarly unpleasant way, kept at a distance, and the midshipmen saw them one by one disappear beneath the surface. All this time the battle was raging on every side round them, and the attacking fleet drew closer and closer to the junks at anchor, and appeared to be gaining the victory. As soon as they could, the midshipmen ran to the ladies' cabin to tell them what had occurred, and to give them such consolation as they had to offer.

"But could not we manage to make the vessel sail and run away?" exclaimed Cecile, with considerable animation, as if a bright thought had struck her.

"I wish we could, Miss Dubois," said Jack; "but there is no wind, and we have not strength to hoist these heavy mat sails of the junk."

"Ah! but I will help you, and so will mamma, I am sure," answered the young lady.

"Mamma would be of great assistance in hoisting, I doubt not," said Jack, looking with an expression of humour, which he could not repress, towards the weighty dame. "We'll try what can be done." They could not venture to remain long in the cabin, so they hurried back on deck. They were as much puzzled as ever to know what next to do. Their great fear was that the pirates would return from the shore and prevent any attempt they might make to escape. When they told the American captain what Miss Cecile had proposed, he said that she was a brave young lady for thinking of such a thing; that perhaps a breeze might come off the land, and that if it did, they would try and sway up the foresail. Scarcely had they come to this resolution, when, by the flashes of the guns, they saw a boat pulling a short distance ahead of them. The American captain hailed. A voice answered immediately in English. "Why, that's one of my men, as I'm a freeborn American!" exclaimed the captain. "Come here; be smart now." In less than a minute one of the boats of the brig came alongside with three seamen in her. They had been captured by a junk, and, finding the boat floating astern, they had taken the opportunity, during the confusion of the battle, of jumping into her and pulling off. The boat was too large for the three men to manage, and they would probably have been lost had they got outside. Not a moment was wasted in bringing the two ladies from the cabin, and in lowering them into her. Captain Willock and his mate, and Jos and Hoddidoddi followed, and they were hurriedly shoving off, eager to get away from the junk, when Murray asked the rest if they were going to live on air, and reminded them that they would all be starved if they had not a supply of provisions.

"Very right, sare," observed Jos; "me go find food."

Accordingly he and the two midshipmen and Mr Hudson jumped on board again and hunted about for food. It was rather difficult to find in the dark, but they got some jars of water, and a bag of rice, and a collection of nameless things which they supposed were to be eaten. They got also a small stove, with fuel, and a saucepan. Altogether, considering that they seized whatever they could lay hands on, they had reason to be satisfied with the result of their search. Fortunately, just that particular spot was in comparative darkness, though on either side the pirates were firing away at each other as furiously as ever.

Captain Willock took the helm, and the two midshipmen, with Joe Hudson and the Malay, each seizing an oar, away they pulled at a pretty good speed from the scene of action. The shot, however, every now and then came whizzing over them, and made Madame Dubois shriek out rather too lustily. Her daughter, on the contrary, kept perfectly silent, or if she spoke, it was to entreat the old lady not to be alarmed.

"But, _ma chere fille_, if those horrid balls should hit us, how dreadful!" was the answer.

"Yes, _ma mere_, but crying out will not stop them," remarked Miss Cecile; an observation which Jack highly admired.

He and Alick and the rest pulled with all their might, as they had good reason for doing, with the prospect of liberty before them, and imprisonment or death if they were recaptured. As they drew out from the light thrown on them by the flashes of the guns, and away from the shot, they all breathed more freely, and Madame Dubois began to leave off screaming, giving way only at intervals to a short hysterical cry as the sound of a more than usual crashing broadside reached her ears. At last they were completely shrouded by the gloom of night, and they could only now and then hear a faint rattle in the distance.

Captain Willock steered north-west, the direction in which he supposed Canton to lie. On they pulled for several hours, till at last they grew very tired and hungry, so they stopped rowing and cried out for food. Joe Hudson had charge of the provisions. From the first bag he opened he produced some tough, dry lumps, on the nature of which no one could pronounce till they had reached the Malay. He bit away at one, and then remarked--

"Want boiling; crawl, crawl; berry good do."

"Slugs," cried Jack. "Hand something else out."

The next bag was full of some long, dried things, which might have been eels, but were very probably snakes. Frogs and snails in a dried or pickled state were not more tempting; but at last they came on a basket of shell-fish, which, with some unboiled rice, stopped the gnawings of hunger, but did not make a very satisfying meal. They were afraid then of lighting a fire, but they agreed that they would do so in the morning.

Once more they took to their oars. They now, however, could not make much progress, nor could they have done so had a breeze sprung up, as they possessed no sails. They hoped, therefore, that it would continue calm. In this, however, they were destined to be disappointed. Not long past midnight a gentle zephyr began to play over the surface of the water, and soon it turned into a light breeze, and that increased into a stiff one, and by degrees it grew stronger and stronger, and the sea got up and tossed the boat about, and that made Madame Dubois scream as loud as before, and now and then the spray washed over them, and then she screamed louder still; and next it was discovered that the boat leaked, and it was necessary to employ two men constantly in baling to keep her afloat. The more she tumbled about the more she leaked, and the louder poor Madame Dubois screamed. Her daughter proved herself a regular heroine, and made no noise, and only grasped the side of the boat tighter as it rose and fell on the seas. The morning approached, but matters did not improve; the wind blew stronger; the waves grew higher and seriously threatened to swamp the boat.

"I say, Alick, this is no fun," observed Jack. "What's to be done?"

"We must get under the lee of the land till the gale moderates," answered Murray.

The wind, it must be observed, was favourable; but the sea had now got up so much, that it was dangerous to run before it. Captain Willock agreed to Murray's proposal, and, watching their opportunity, they got the boat round head to the seas, and pulled in for the shore. This was very trying after all their labours; but they were not the only people in the world who have to toil in vain, or have to undo all the work they have done and begin again. They now shipped less water, but they made very little way in consequence of the heavy sea. Daylight at last came, but did not exhibit a pleasant prospect. The green seas tumbled and foamed about them; the dark clouds hurried along overhead, while about three miles off appeared the land with the harbour they had left a few miles along the shore on the port bow. The idea that they might get into some bay or inlet, and remain, there till the weather moderated, was a considerable consolation. Still, pull as hard as they could, they could not make their heavy boat go ahead, but rather found themselves drifting farther off the shore. The great thing, however, was to keep the boat afloat. Hour after hour thus passed away, till at last the wind began to fall and the sea quickly went down; and, instead of making for the shore, it was proposed putting the boat about and continuing their course. The captain was looking out for a lull to do this, when an exclamation from his lips made everybody turn their eyes in the direction towards which he pointed, the port they had left, where several large junks were seen rounding the headland which formed its side on the west. They all anxiously watched the junks; they were steering to the north-west.

"They are in pursuit of us," observed Jack.

"Little doubt about it, I guess," said Captain Willock.

"Can we not escape them?" said Murray.

"By lying quietly down at the bottom of the boat we might," said the captain. "We'll wait, though, till they come near."

The junks advanced, and from their appearance it seemed too probable that they were the very fleet of pirates which had entered the harbour the previous evening, and that, having been victorious, they were again sailing in search of fresh plunder.

"We had a narrow escape, then," observed Jack. "If we had remained, we should, long before this, have been food for the sharks in the bay."

"I guess that we shall be lucky if we are not down the throats of some of them before night," pleasantly observed Captain Willock.

Madame Dubois did not understand him, or it would have set her off screaming again. She willingly enough lay down in the bottom of the boat, and Jack in his choicest French begged she would keep quiet; her daughter followed her example; and as the sea had gone down, the oars were laid in, and the rest of the party placed themselves under the thwarts out of sight. As, however, the junks were steering almost directly for them, they had little expectation of escaping notice. Jack had great difficulty, he confessed, in refraining from jumping up every instant to watch the progress of the junks.

"What do you say, Alick?" he exclaimed, suddenly. "Suppose we arm ourselves with the boat's stretchers, and the moment a junk runs up to us jump on board and capture her? It's the best thing I can think of to do."

"We should probably be knocked on the head, and be sent overboard again," answered Alick. "We must stay quiet, and wait the course of events."

"I suppose it is the wisest thing, but I should like to have a fight for life," said Jack, with a sigh.

The boat kept slowly turning round and round, and just then, by lifting his head up a little, he saw the mast-heads and sails of two junks, which were bearing close down upon them. There seemed now an impossibility of their escaping detection.

"We are in for it," whispered Jack. "Let's have a fight."

"I guess it would be a short one," answered Captain Willock; "stay quiet, Mr Rogers, if you don't want all our throats cut."

Two minutes more elapsed, and the high sides of two large junks, crowned by big round shields and numberless hideous grinning faces looking down on them, appeared, one on either hand. A couple of grapnels were hove into the boat, which was nearly crushed between the two vessels, and a dozen or more pirates, armed to the teeth, looking more like demons than men, sprang into her. Before Jack, or Murray, or Captain Willock, or indeed any of the party, could offer any resistance, they had passed running nooses over their shoulders, by which those on deck hauled them up without power of resistance. Jack, Alick, the American skipper, and Jos were fished up on board one junk, and they saw, to their great regret, the Frenchwoman and her daughter hoisted up on the other, poor madame half dead with terror, shrieking out vain petitions to be set on her feet.

"Jos, Jos," cried Jack, when he saw this, "tell the pirates they must let the poor ladies remain with us. They will frighten them to death."

Jos shook his head. "No good, now," he answered, mournfully; "dey cut all our troats."

Just then, the junk which had caught the midshipmen separated from the boat, and they, with the captain and Jos, being dragged by the pirates into a cabin, were unable to discover what became of the rest of the party.

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